About three years ago I had a dream in which, just like trying on a fresh set of clothes, you could go to your wardrobe and “select a body” complete with a different shape and a new face. Our brains uploaded and downloaded via some new version of Bluetooth streaming. In this dream reality, rarer models of bodies had a higher price point, but age and sex selection happened instantly. I distinctly remember talking to a 7-year-old girl who very clearly had the personality of a middle-aged man. Her sense of humor and mannerisms reminded me of my uncle; she (he?) stared at an attractive older woman who walked by.
This dream was one that stood out to me, because although I am a designer and I care about the “look” and solution of things… what would the world be like if ethnicity, skin tone, age, and sex were just changed at the press of a button? What would the human race come to value and sell then? We would have no need for plastic surgeons. No weight loss products. No tanning beds. No makeup. This dream is our reality straddling a fantasy world of endless options to curate new selves on a whim.
When I had the dream I assumed it was some subconscious manifestation of my thoughts on social media. So many people I love don’t show themselves in a true light. Although they are truly beautiful and live lives they should be graciously thankful for…they have created a fictitious, perfected, and, most interestingly, bland version of themselves. They look up locations and post images I’ve already seen there, with the same books and captions and latte art or shoe shots — visual control. Some of my friends have gone into debt for their digital identities, eager to suggest affluence, while their real selves are left worrying about the credit card bills. People are more invested in getting others to love them, then loving themselves.
It seems as if this all will become more affordable with the rise of digital clothing subscriptions. You can pay a monthly fee and have clothing Photoshopped on your selfie; influencers will never have to worry about wearing the same outfit twice.
And enter CG avatars. When I first saw these I wondered how they would do, but obviously the answer is relatively well, since large robotics companies are behind some of them. @lilmiquela has 1.5 million followers on Instagram. In some photos she looks almost real, like any other influencer airbrushed with some two-dollar app; she actually recommends OUAI for “keeping my strands silky smooth.”
And then there’s @Shudu.Gram, the first Digital Supermodel.
These influencers have political views, relationship drama, and their own passion projects like music and art. And of course, they’ve already made companies a lot of money with product placement. As difficult as it may be to accept, these creations solve many of our personal “visual control” issues. The cost of getting a CG avatar to a location is cheap and fast. Why fly to Paris when you can Photoshop your avatar there? Clothing is digital. And the skin and hair — always perfect.
Last week my 9-year-old niece, still too young to understand how influencers make money, told me she wants to be a “famous Instagrammer” when she grows up. I wondered: if she actually pursues this in a few years, once her mother lets her use social media, will she use her own image? She is gorgeous and could potentially model. Or would she perfect her identity further, by creating a CG persona she can have total control over? Will my friends — those who spend twenty minutes making a branch look effortlessly placed in a vase and hire makeup artists to apply their false eyelashes — go this route as well?
Will Fortune 500 companies prefer to hire a CG model over a real one? I would rather have a broken reality over a polished CG one. I know I prefer my friends and family as they are, instead of a Photoshopped, scripted version of themselves.
But that’s the skincare routine of the digital age — a strategy that allows people to become what they want to be. Which skincare product fits in with the brand they have made for themselves? Are they Lux? It’s got to be over 500 dollars. Are they Granola? Was it tested on animals? Is @perl.www okay with that?
AND are we going to buy it?
By Becka Gruber